Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Plan the perfect 20 Year Wedding Anniversary Hike on Mount Pico in the Azores, Portugal

Mount Pico in the Azores, Portugal 

For our 20th wedding anniversary, we searched for the perfect escape that would provide us with some great adventure (e.g. hiking a peak) while also providing a relaxing and romantic getaway.  After searching various destinations, we both agreed that  hiking to the top of Mount Pico in the Azores would be the perfect trip...and it did not disappoint! 

Mount Pico is 2351 meters in altitude, which is the highest peak in Portugal and the third highest in the Atlantic Ocean.  Mount Pico is a dormant volcano, which has many unique geological features including volcanic rock, vents and a mini-mountain inside of the crater called Piquinho. The island also includes a World Heritage winery, delicious wines, a number of amazing restaurants showcasing local foods and a number of festivals during the summer months.  The hike to the peak to Mount Pico is of course the main purpose of our trip, but we needed to be prepared given that we found out that one-third of all of attempts to hike this peak fail, so don't take it too lightly.

We went in October so it was less busy.  If you are planning to go in the summer months, be prepared to start the hike early as they limit the number of hikers on the trail and so you may need to wait  if you go too late.  You will want to also give yourself a couple of days to pick for the best day of the hike, given that the weather can  impact your trip as rain would make the trek slippery in places and you will not get the perfect view from the top.  

Screen in the gatehouse that shows the hikers on the trail via GPS trackers
When you check in (everybody needs to check in at the gate), you are given a GPS tacker to place in your pack, which allows them to track your progress on the mountain. 

Stairs leading to the trail for Mount Pico
After checking in and getting our trackers, we were off.  This is the staircase leading from the gate to the trail.  The weather was great.  The air was crisp at the bottom of the trail and we started off wearing our jackets (soon to take them off once we started climbing in the sun). 

Vents on Mount Pico
Here is a picture of one of the vents on the mountain.  When the volcano was active, pressure in the form of steam and some lava, would have been released from this vent.

Near the bottom of Mount Pico
At the start of the trail, you will see lots of vegetation and the trail is clearly marked. Once you clear this section, you will be walking on volcano rocks for most of the trip as you start the steady incline.

On top of a line of clouds on our way to Mount Pico
One of the highlights of this hike (there are many!), is hiking above the clouds quickly and then watching the clouds beneath you as you climb up the mountain side.  The clouds seemed to hug the mountain and so we had the benefit of walking above the clouds while also capturing amazing views of the other islands as we hiked to the top. 

Taking a break with our heads in the clouds

Above clouds, it almost seemed like we could jump into them (which should always be avoided no matter how fluffy the clouds seem beneath you!!).

Following the trail markers makes the trail easy to navigate on a clear day

On clear days, the trail is easy to navigate because there are a number of trail markers along the path to guide you to the top (we read that finding the trail can be more difficult with less visibility and in rainy conditions so you need to be prepared for differences based on the weather) Each trail marker is numbered so you can keep track of your progress. There are 47 trail markers to reach the top.  Once you reach #44 you have reached the crater.  

Volcano rocks are hard on the feet but easy to navigate

There are very few trees on the trail, it is mainly shrubs and mosses.  It is very important to stay on the trail as these mosses are loosely attached to the rocks and are easily damaged.  There were a few sections with loose rock which made it a bit tricky and a few small scrambles. There were some technical sections, but this hike is better characterized as a constant incline rather than a difficult technical trail.   There are numerous place to take breaks and enjoy the views.  

Once you hike up to the foot of the mini-mountain called Piquinho, you only have 70 more meters to the top.   


Piquinho is inside a huge crater and provides amazing views of the high walls where lava once pooled.  The crater is called Pico Alto which is 500 meters in diameter and 30 meters deep.  Within the crater is Piquinho which is a volcanic cone which we hiked up to reach the top of Mount Pico.

The volcanic cone (Piquinho) is 70 meters high and the most difficult section of the hike.  The heat of the rock and the steam escaping from the Fissures in the rock make it very hot.  It is steep and the trail up Pinquinho is marked with yellow paint on the rocks. 

Cheers to another 20 years of hiking to the top of the World!!
The top of Mount Pico is breathtaking!  You really feel on top of the world at the top of this peak with the clouds far below you and the views through the clouds to the other islands and the ocean that seems to go on forever.  Once we got to the top of the Volcanic cone, we enjoyed a glass of wine that we carried up in a reusable pouch and our plastic hiking wine glasses.  It was the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary and to toast our success for the hike up!

A local wine Frei Gigante enjoyed at the top!

Once down from the Volcanic cone you are in the mouth of the volcano or the crater.  This was the perfect place for our lunch.  Because this was an anniversary hike, we decided to bring a special lunch, as we made sandwiches with local, meat and cheeses from the island below.    

After taking a break on the crater, we started our journey down the mountain, which was hard on the knees but amazing to walk back into the clouds.

Trail marker above the clouds on Mount Pico
The descent is the same trail down in which you now count down from 47 all the way to 1 and into the gate.  The descent provides amazing views and a different perspective from the accent.

Clouds open to show our route to the bottom of Mount Pico

As you descend back into the clouds, the clouds seem like a thin fog that you can almost touch.  The sun was warm but not too hot to make it uncomfortable.

GPS tracker showing that we were at the gate and that two other parties had yet to come back.

Once back at the gate, we returned our GPS tracking device and looked around at their very small tuck shop.  This is not the greatest place to buy souvenirs (better to shop the local stores in the local towns to get better gifts for the kids!). 

Overall, this was an amazing trip.  The pictures and our reflections of the views cannot adequately describe our feelings on the trail and at the top of this mountain.  There are very few hikes where you can wake up at sea level (we had an ocean front hotel) and then climb above the clouds and then return back to the ocean for a swim all in the same day.  This hike is definitely on our bucket list of hikes with the kids!

Got up early to see the sunrise on Mount Pico

The day after our hike, we took the ferry to Horta and had this amazing view from our hotel room at sunrise while drinking coffee and tea and reflecting on the amazing trip.  Horta is also a spectacular small island with a huge crater moutain and it is the perfect place to rent scooters for the day (we made it around the island in a day, stopping at the crater for a hike, stopping for coffee and enjoying the sites.  

Our advice is to go off peak season and to check this off your bucket list before it gets too known and full of tourists.  

Mount Pico from the airplane on the way home

If you are flying out from Horta, be sure to ask the flight attendant which side of the plane will give the best views of Mount Pico.  We were told that we would be passing it on the right side, and it was amazing to get a close up view of the mountain we just hiked!

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